Grey Squirrels and British Woodlands

At the beginning of the summer we went to one of our walking stick  suppliers’ open days which was a really lovely day. Set in the heart of the beautiful Somerset countryside, the woodland used for coppicing walking sticks was stunning. We learnt a great deal that day about woodland management, coppicing, seasoning and straightening different types of wood for walking stick making.

But the thing I came away thinking about the most was the grey squirrels and the effect they have of our trees. I was familiar with the competition between the red squirrel and the introduced North American grey squirrel, but until this open day I was completely unaware of the serious threat the grey squirrel represents to our native woodlands.

Grey Squirrel
Grey Squirrel

The main problem for trees is that the grey squirrel likes to strip the bark of trees to get to the sugary, sap filled tissue just beneath it. Phloem tissue is the medium in which sugars are transported around the tree. The squirrel can gnaw a complete ring around the tree, thus restricting the movement of sugars around it and the tree may then die.
Even if the tree is not “ringed”, any removal of the bark or phloem tissue makes the tree more vulnerable to disease or fungal infection, thus causing the tree to rot (definitely not good for growing walking sticks!).

Interestingly, Cherry trees escape this threat as they have bark which grows horizontally around the tree which the squirrel cannot gnaw. This is because the squirrel (as he is a rodent) uses the front incisors to gnaw down the bark which is fine if the bark is growing vertically but not horizontally.

This bark stripping occurs between late April and the end of July. Very young trees or saplings (stem diameter less than 5 cm) are generally not attacked as they cannot support the weight of a squirrel, the main stem of older trees (40 years+) are usually safe as the bark is too thick for the squirrels to strip. The most vulnerable trees are sycamore, beech, oak, sweet chestnut, pine, larch and Norway spruce, aged between 10 and 40 years old; though almost any broadleaved species of tree can be attacked. Bark stripping is a problem in woodland where the squirrel numbers are greater than 5 squirrels per hectare. The risk of damage may be greatest where there are vulnerable trees next to mature woodland that produces a good seed crop, which in turn supports a high density of squirrels.

Control of squirrel numbers is difficult. Control aims to reduce tree damage by bringing the number of squirrels to below 5 per hectare.
However, it is important to remember that grey squirrels are highly mobile as a species and a non-isolated woodland can be re-colonised within a month; and even one that is isolated will have new resident squirrels within three months. Control measures should aim to ensure that the number of squirrels is at a minimum when bark stripping activity is at a maximum.

So there you have it. Growing trees for making walking sticks is not as simple as it looks or as risk-free.

Popular Woods Used for Stick Making

Chestnut and Hazel Wood for Making Walking Canes

The name Chestnut refers to the genus of eight or nine species of deciduous trees of the beech family. Chestnut is also of the same family as Oak and the wood is very similar in colour and texture. Like Oak, Chestnut wood contains many tannins and this makes it a very durable wood.

Durability, especially weather resistance, means that Chestnut wood is used in fencing and outdoor furniture.

Chestnut wood is also good for making walking sticks because of its durability. It is also lightweight, strong and easy to work.

Most of our crook canes are made from Chestnut.

Probably the most popular wood for stickmaking is Hazel. English Hazel is good for walking sticks as it has an attractive bark and the wood itself is very flexible, making it easy to straighten. It is so flexible infact that it can be twisted and knotted.

Most of our handmade sticks are made from Hazel.

Walking Sticks for Disability and Sticks for General Use

There is an important difference between a stick to use as a disability cane and a stick for decorative purposes. Some of our dress and collector’s canes are only for decorative use and they are clearly marked as so on the website.

The main difference of course is the handle. An anotomical handle that fits the shape of the palm of the hand is considerably more reliable than a cane with an animal head resin handle.
The other difference is the ease of balance. Consider the quad cane. It can stand alone on its four feet and has a special shape which distributes the body weight directly over the shaft. The soft grip handle finishes the stick off to be a very reliable and dependable stick.
Another consideration is the supported weight limited. All of our sticks are tested to a weight of 15 stone. We do have a bariatric range of heavy duty sticks supporting users who weigh up to 19 stone. We will be adding some more extra strong and extra long canes to the website shortly.
If you are looking to buy a walking stick for yourself or for someone else who needs it as a mobility aid, then it is best to consult your physiotherapist or doctor as to the best cane to buy.
You may be thinking “who buys a walking stick if its not to help them walk?” Well, there are lots of other uses and reasons for buying a stick,
such as; accessories for outfits for special occasions, theatre productions, hiking and rambling, outdoor pusuits, collecting, fishing,
self-defence, seat sticks for a handy portable chair, sticks for the blind, weddings and funerals, and for farming.
Sticks for disability
Walking with a stick
If a walking stick is being used as an assistive aid for someone with a poorly leg the following advice applies:

Walk in a normal/your usual manner, placing the walking stick on the ground at the same time as the affected leg. The stick should normally
be held in the hand opposite to the affected leg.

Getting the correct length stick
It is important to use a stick at the correct height for you. When the stick is at the correct length, the user should be able to maintain an upright
posture with the elbow slightly flexed. When this position is acheived it means that the body weight is distributed through the stick when the
user pushes down on the stick to walk along.

To determine the correct length, stand up straight with your arms flat to your sides and measure the length from your wrist to the ground. If two walking canes are being used, the lengths will need to be longer as the sticks will be held out in front of the body.

General safety when using a walking stick
Again, not all of the sticks we supply are suitable as mobility aids, some are for collectors or for decorative use but the ones that are suitable, like the anatomical, quad, offset and some of the Derby canes should be used in the following ways to avoid accidents:

1. Use a chair with a high seat and high arms to assist you in sitting down and standing up with ease.
2. Remove obstacles on the floors of your home such as loose rugs, draught excluders etc.
3. Make sure there is good lighting in darker places like hallways, landings and stairways.
4. Wear flat supportive shoes rather than slippery slippers.
5. Avoid wet floors
6. Take care on pavements. Hazards such as ice, snow, mud, wet leaves and uneven paving slabs can all cause slips and falls.
7. Take care when carrying things such as bags
8. Check your walking cane and the ferrule for wear and tear regularly to ensure they are in the best condition. Ferrules can wear out quite quickly and will need to be replaced.


Walking Sticks for People Who Don’t Like Walking Sticks

We receive a number of enquiries from people, particularly younger people who need a walking stick but do not want an unattractive and bulky cane that screams DISABILITY!

If you or anybody you know needs to use a walking stick or some kind of walking aid in their daily lives but are reluctant to do so for whatever reason, then here is an update on what is available on the market today that may help to change your or their mind.

First of all you need to identify what a stick would be used for. Would it be useful to have a stick that turns into a seat to be used when waiting in a long queue (at the airport for example) when there isn’t a readily available seat? Or would it be nice to have a strong, reliable walking stick that looks like a hiking pole instead of a mobility aid?

Many people, particularly young people or people who have had an accident do not want to use a stick for support. I think the main reason for this is that the thought of a walking stick conjures up images of NHS, bulky and unattractive sticks and people are unaware of the sportier, more attractive sticks available.To take a fresh look at what is available these days, a good place to start looking is on the internet.

Sticks today can be bought in funky metallic pink, designer patterns, pretty floral or sporty styles. You can buy sticks that look like umbrellas but have the strength to support a person and have different walking stick style handles, not just crooks. Whatever your taste or favourite colour, you are sure to find something to suit.

Other considerations are whether a stick would be more of a hindrance than a help. If a stick may only be needed for occasional use then you don’t want to be carrying it around all of the time unnecessarily. You won’t be wanting something too heavy in this case either. Well, the solution is to get a fold-able walking stick. One that can be stowed away in a handbag or (for men) in a jacket pocket. These sticks tend to be very lightweight but strong and reliable when it comes to supporting the user..Carbon fibre walking sticks are also a brilliant solution. Some weigh only 250 grams but are incredibly strong (ten times stronger than aluminium sticks).

Also it is worth keeping up with the ever increasing pace of technology and innovation. For example, if its a stick for the blind that’s needed, you know one that’s painted all-white for increased visibility, there is now talk of a handheld wireless sensor the size of a television remote control that may soon replace the white canes and other walking sticks that have guided the blind for centuries.The sensor is designed to detect obstacles in the way and a working model of the magic wand hasn’t been built yet but give it time…

We are pleased to be able to offer a large choice of walking sticks in many different styles, colours and sizes that we feel there is something to suit everybody!

Things to Consider when Choosing a Walking Stick

The most important thing when choosing a walking stick is to
get the correct height. The easiest way to discover what height stick
you need is to stand up straight with your arms to your side and measure the
distance from your wrist to the ground, then this is the height you need.

It is important to find out more about the measurements of a walking stick
on a website before you buy because sometimes the measurements shown describe
the total height (i.e to the top of the handle) and sometimes it is the height
from the ground to the underneath of the handle. This could mean a difference
of up to a inch, depending on the handle type.

Some sticks are sold as a one piece, fixed length item and others are adjustable.

The second consideration is the TYPE of handle that will best suit your needs.
There are generally quite a few different styles to choose from, all with their
own special purposes.

Derby walking canes are popular because the Derby style handle is designed to hook over the wrist to free up the hands when required. Crook handles offer the same benefit, hooking over the wrist or arm.

Anatomical shaped handles, i.e handles made of a resin or moulded plastic which fit the shape of the palms are the most comfortable handle type. These types of sticks are usually sold in a right and a left hand model and usually bought as a pair. They are best appreciated by people who rely heavily on a walking stick (or two).

Crutch handles provide a reassuring grip, promoting confidence in the user. Crutch handles are also lighter and generally smaller than other handle types.

The third thing to find out about a stick is the maximum weight it has been
tested to support. Some sticks are stronger than others depending on the materials used to make the shaft.

Carbide walking sticks are the strongest (and most lightweight) that
money can buy. Other materials used are usually: Aluminium (for hiking poles, collapsible canes and folding sticks), wood ( Chestnut, Hazel, Beech, Ash and Hardwoods) or Bamboo.

Aluminium is strong and lightweight, wood used for stick making is carefully selected, dried for a year and treated so is a reliable source for stick making and bamboo is flexible and strong.

Number four. Will the stick be for occasional or frequent use?

This is a very practical question you need to ask yourself to save you money and to get the perfect stick for you. If a stick is for occasional use (for instance, you may need something to lean on when in a queue) a fold-able or telescopic stick is probably best. It is best to have a lightweight stick that folds or collapses down to a small size that can be kept in a handbag or rucksack when it is not needed so that you don’t need to unnecessarily carry around a walking

A flip stick or foldaway seat is a good option if you need a seat when out and about when there might not be any available (i.e at an outdoor event such as a fair or in an airport). Flip sticks usually incorporate a seat and a walking stick (with handle) in one, so you have the choice of a quick seat or stick as required.

If a walking stick is going to be used for frequent use, then a lightweight stick with a comfortable handle is the best thing, or perhaps even two sticks to evenly distribute your weight and the pressure on your hands.

The fifth point to consider is where the walking stick will be used. Will it be used around the house, for going to the shops and out and about, for walks in the countryside or to take away on holidays?

For use around the home, you will a stick with a rubber ferrule (tip) which provides a better grip on slippery surfaces than steel or brass ferrules. For general use around town, things to consider are the same as the previous points already mentioned.

For country walkers and hikers; lightweight hiking poles are an excellent choice as they are strong, lightweight and most importantly, adjustable. Usually sold as a pair, hiking poles can be easily and quickly adjusted in height. This is particularly useful for hill walking because you can shorten both sticks to ascend, lengthen to descend or have them at different heights for walking across a hill on a steep slope to help keep your balance.

There is a large choice of walking sticks on the market suitable for holiday makers. Any sticks that are fold-able or collapsible compact down to a small size for luggage.

To summarise, the five most important points to consider when choosing a walking stick for yourself or for someone else are; the height needed, the best handle type to buy, strength and weight designed to support, how often the stick will be used and where.

Self-defence with a walking stick

Pensioners have been taught to use their walking sticks in self-defence by a martial arts expert. Karate black belt Kevin Garwood, 58, is teaching the moves to the over-60s in his home town of Gorleston, Norfolk.Mr Garwood’s pupils learn simple strangleholds, arm locks and throws with their sticks.“What I am not trying to do is make grey-haired ninjas – what it does is give them tremendous confidence,” Mr Garwood said.

An eldery pupil has already put Mr Garwood’s training into practice – she fought off two boys who grabbed her arm and her handbag.

However she reported her self-defence to the police because she was worried she may have injured the boys.